The Mothers of Srebrenica case: the final curtain

With the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Subašić and others v. The Netherlands on 17 March 2022 comes an end to the legal battle of a group of more than 6,000 relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, also known as the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ against the State of the Netherlands and initially the United Nations, that started in the summer of 2007.

The Court finds it:

in the light of all the material in its possession and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, that they do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or the Protocols thereto and that the admissibility criteria set out in Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention have not been met.”

The Court consequently declares the application inadmissible. It took the Court more than 2 years to come to this rather poor outcome.

For the relatives seeking justice since 1995 I am disappointed with this ruling by the highest Court in Europe, which was established to safeguard the protection of fundamental human rights. After all, if in a case following a genocide with more than 7,000 men killed under the eyes of the international community, most of them in large-scale executions, it is ruled that the relatives are not victims and the case is therefore inadmissible, then there hardly ever can be a case that meets this criterion.

At the same time, as leading counsel of the Mothers of Srebrenica since 2005, I am proud of what we achieved. For the first time, a State has been hold accountable for the unlawful actions of its military troops during a UN mission. The Dutch Supreme Court ruled on 19 July 2019 – just like the regional court and the court of appeal ruled before – that the Netherlands acted unlawfully on 13 July 1995, because Dutchbat sent a group of approximately 350 men from the UN-compound, while at that time it was clear that the men were in great danger of being murdered.

On a personal note I want to thank everyone who was involved with this unique case during the last 17 years. My special thanks go out to my former colleagues: Simon van der Sluijs, Axel Hagedorn and Joachim Staab, to the Bosnian team of lawyers: Semir Guzin, Miro Kebo, Faruk Cupina and the late Mensud Donko and to Kushtrim Istrefi and Zane Ratnice. Their efforts and continued commitment to this case made the difference.

Our work is done. It is now up to the academic community and historians to decide whether this outcome after 15 years of litigation does sufficient justice to the Mothers of Srebrenica.

Marco R. Gerritsen
Haarlem, 30 March 2022